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Wedding Planning 365: How to Start Planning a Wedding

Congratulations! You’re a year out from your wedding date! After the shock of the engagement wears off, you may find yourself haphazardly trying to figure out how to start planning a wedding. There are so many different decisions to make — from who to invite and where the reception will be, to “Can my dogs come?” (It happens!). Plus, everything in between. And then you’ll have to decide how to pay for it all.

There’s a lot of steps involved in wedding planning, but there is no need to panic. You’ve got plenty of time (365 days in fact!) to plan your big day. At this point (about a year out), you should be kicking off the wedding planning process. There are no steadfast rules that you must follow, or even a strict order you necessarily need to abide by. However, using a guideline like this can help you get a better sense of what to be focusing on a year out, in accordance with typical vendor timelines.

Wedding Planning Checklist: Beautiful wedding pictures!
Planning a wedding is a lot of work, but you’ll have many special moments on the day of! Photo Credit: Samantha Lafoon

1. Set a Total Wedding Budget

There’s nothing worse than falling in love with something you can’t reasonably afford, except maybe paying for it unexpectedly. Roughly 50% of couples spend more than they plan to. Set yourself up for success by making a budget you can actually stick to. Although wedding budgeting is majorly unglamorous, it’s crucial to do it early on. You’ll thank yourself later!

 Use this handy budget template to make sure you don’t forget anything. Make adjustments for things you know you want or things that don’t matter as you go. Also, have conversations upfront with anyone that will be involved in paying for your wedding. Whether parents are chipping in or it’s all on you, knowing total spend will be pivotal in decision making down the road.

Building a realistic budget early on lets you search for better vendors that align with your vision. Communicate your budget expectations with all of your potential vendors, especially for venues and catering. Most venues will be willing to work with your budget and even provide smart ways to get the cost down. Packages can be more flexible than they first appear online; all you have to do is ask!

Other budgeting tips from Brideside: 

  • Consider opening a credit card with great travel rewards for all wedding expenses. Use the perks to up the ante on a great honeymoon! Piña Coladas at the beach, anyone?
  • Off-season and Friday/Sunday wedding rates are definitely the best deals, but if you’re set on summer or fall, you can often get perks and discounts from booking a vendor before a set time.
  • Don’t forget about service fees and tips, which should all be factored into your overall budget.
  • No matter how well you plan, a lot of unexpected and unavoidable costs arise the month before you wedding. Set aside a slush fund (2–3% of your budget) so that you’re prepared when they do. 
Bride and groom at chicago wedding
Beautiful wedding photos outdoors? Priceless. Photo Credit: Julia Franzosa

2. Make a Tentative Wedding Guest List 

You won’t know for sure who’s coming until you get those RSVPs rolling in, but it’s important to consider the bulk of people that will be at your wedding. The size of your guest list, large or small, has one of the biggest impacts on your overall budget. It’s important to do budgeting in accordance with your guest list so you can make adjustments before it’s too late.

Even if it’s just a rough estimate or a range, identifying the approximate number of guests is crucial to choosing the right venue and location. Every venue has a maximum guest count, and many also have a food and beverage minimum you’ll have to reach in order to book the space.

We recommend pulling up a Google Sheet or Excel spreadsheet and taking the time to actually write out a list of people you want to invite. Both you and your fiancé should do this for your sides of the family, friends and other loved ones. We suggest floating the list by some of the parents (if they’re involved in wedding planning). Although they shouldn’t be dictating the whole list, they’ll likely want to include some invitees you hadn’t considered. Consider whether or not you’re inviting kids and plus ones as well.

Once you’re done with the list, it can be helpful to estimate how many you think will actually attend your wedding. We don’t recommend booking a venue with a guest maximum that is less than the number of people you’re inviting (for obvious reasons), but having an expected attendee number can help with overall pricing for a venue. Although every wedding is different, it’s estimated that roughly 15% of guests (20–30% for destination weddings) will decline an invite. Also, keep in mind the numbers of out-of-town and local guests. Locals are typically more likely to attend, but you know your loved ones best!

If you’re looking at a few different locations, know that your guest list may vary depending on the place you choose. You might want to look into travel accommodations for out-of-towners as this could influence where you have your wedding.

brideside bride posing with bridesmaids
Just be sure your guest list includes 9 of your closest bridesmaids 💚 Photo Credit: Ariel Perry

3. If the Budget Allows, Hire a Wedding Planner 

Hiring a full-time wedding planner will obviously depend on the funds you have available in your wedding budget, but if you decide you want one, now is the time to book them. You’ll have to make sure they are available for your wedding date, and they can also help you find and book a venue. Because wedding planners know the industry so well, they can find the best deals and locations and leave you to the merry-making. They’ll also track your budget and logistics and help out with anything wedding-related leading up and day of. 

Want to hire a wedding planner but don’t know where to start? Here’s some tips.

  • Experience is key for a good wedding planner. See how long they’ve been in the business and what kinds of weddings they’ve worked on. Are they credentialed? Do they belong to event planning associations or have any awards and medals from wedding reference companies like The Knot or Wedding Wire? How many weddings do they do per year? 
  • As always, do your research. Read reviews online to see what other brides have said about working with your planner. You can often find these on Yelp, Google or Wedding Wire or The Knot. One of the easiest ways to get a feel for your planner is to ask to speak with previous clients — it’s totally normal to ask for references! 
  • Look at their rates. Some change by the hour, whereas others have fixed or flat fees. Some may also have referral charges for booking certain vendors. There’s no right or wrong; it’s just nice to know for budgeting purposes.
  • Listen to your heart. You’re going to spend a lot of time with your wedding planner. Make sure that you can have a good working relationship with this person. If it doesn’t feel right, listen to your instincts. Wedding planners are doing the same thing on their end.

4. Book your Wedding Ceremony and Reception Venues

This is the biggest thing you have to lock down around the 12-months-out mark. Booking a venue means setting your date aka your FUTURE WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, which is super exciting! Pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

Bear in mind that depending on your location, you might need to move a little faster to ensure that you snatch up the right venue for your wedding date. In bigger cities with more weddings, venues can start to book up even over a year in advance. If this happens to you, don’t worry! There will still be lots of other great locations to get married and a little creativity can go a long way. 

When searching for a venue, it can be beneficial to make a list of what is most important to you, what’s nice to have, and what you can live without. For instance, if you’ve gotta have a venue with indoor and outdoor space, don’t waste your time on other types of locations. Consider what vibe your want your wedding to have. Is it boho, rustic, timeless or glam? Do you want it in a barn or a banquet hall? All of these decisions can help you home in on your dream venue location. Also consider proximity to ceremony space (if different), nearby hotels, where to take photos and time of year. All can influence what venue you ultimately choose.

Before booking a venue, you’ll want to ask about its flexibility with other vendors or a strict approved vendor list. Some venues will let you bring in your own caterer (or even purchase your own alcohol and charge a corking fee), which can save a lot of money. Same goes for florists, bakery, DJs, etc. If you’re working off a tight budget, a venue with flexible vendor policies is a good way to go.

Research online, come prepared with a list of questions and ask your friends and family for recommendations. In the end, pick the venue that really speaks to you as a couple.

bride and groom popping champagne at wedding
Where there’s a wedding, Champagne is never far behind! Photo Credit: Sarah P Thomas Photography

5. Book Your Catering Company

Cheers to good food! A lot of venues will refer or provide their own catering, which may make booking a venue and catering a lot easier. That said, getting to choose your own catering can be nice for many reasons. You get a lot more flexibility, and you can often find more ways to cut down the price (like by bringing your own booze.) If you can, try to research the catering company online to see what other couples have said about the quality of their food. Another tip: If your catering company runs a restaurant or a bar nearby, grab a bite to eat there to see what the food and service is like. Although the catering menu is certainly different, it can be nice to know what their food style is like before you do a formal tasting. Some venues with a full restaurant inside may even provide you a meal on the house to help you make a booking decision.

For both venue and catering, come prepared with questions. The more you know, the more informed of a decision you can make. A few examples: Is the menu customizable? Does the caterer allow outside food? Is there a cutting fee for serving cake? Are there dietary accommodations? Where is the food made prior to being served? If your caterer is separate from your venue, you’ll also have to ensure their availability that day as well.

Looking for lower-cost catering options? Food trucks are a great option if you’ve got a favorite restaurant. You can also do a buffet-style food service or eliminate more expensive dishes like fish or steak. Even better, ask the caterer if cutting the number of passed appetizers at cocktail hour is an option. Maybe the last hour of the bar is a cash bar? There’s lots of options here to get the cost down.

BridesideBride and Groom eating ice cream at wedding
No matter what you do, ALWAYS budget for a sweet treat. Photo Credit: Giving Tree Photography

Your Wedding Planning Checklist: Ready, Set, Go!

We hope that these tips help you and your fiancé on your journey to the wedding day! 365 days and a lifetime to go, but every newlywed will tell you to enjoy this time of being engaged. The year will go by faster than you know it!

When you’re ready to start shopping bridal gowns and wedding dresses, let us know! You can sign up for both or either here, and we will pair you with a free stylist!

Want more budgeting tips? Get the full story here.

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